We’re excited to announce the new packaging we’ve developed. We believe it’s better in every way, and we think you will too. Here’s the full story.
We started Coastie in 2019 with the objective of creating the most sustainable local food product imaginable. This is our purpose and the core focus of our business.
Since day one we’ve lovingly packed our delicious burgers into returnable glass jars. This allows our product to be as close to zero waste as we can possibly imagine. We offer a $1 refund for every jar returned, then wash those jars and refill them with more burgers.
But now with two years of data on jar returns and a bunch of research on the environmental impact of glass we’ve been faced with a sobering reality. We estimate that we receive roughly 30% of our jars back. We know that a lot of these jars end up in customers’ pantries, as water cups, as tiny plant pots and a hundred other things, and we think that’s great, as these jars are being reused.
However, this year we bought a lot of new glass – and I mean a lot. This glass comes from overseas as we’ve learned there’s very little glass manufacturing in North America. Glass requires extremely high temperatures (1,400C) to produce, and therefore almost all global glass production uses fossil fuels. Glass is also heavy and takes up a lot of space on container ships crossing the Pacific. These ships consume a lot of fuel, and are known to use extremely polluting fuels to minimize cost (and since they traverse international waters, their emissions are missed in most calculations of national carbon footprints). Each time we accept a jar back we need to wash and sanitize it, using more resources still. One life-cycle analysis that we came across concluded that a glass jar needs to be reused at least 14 times before it has the same carbon emissions as the equivalent plastic package.
From an operations perspective glass creates a lot of logistical challenges. We are more than happy to take on these challenges in order to reach our sustainability objectives, but if these objectives aren’t met, we face the crisis that our widespread use of glass is worse for the environment than alternative packaging solutions. Here are some of the business impacts of using glass packaging: We accept the jars back and store dirty jars until we have time to wash them. Most people do a great job of returning clean jars, but a many of them come back with significant scrubbing required. We remove the labels, sanitize the jars, then air dry and load back into clean boxes to use in our next batch of burgers. Numerous checks take place along the way to ensure all jars are properly cleaned before we fill them with burgers. As you can imagine these jars take up a lot of space, and the local storage and transport of these jars does not come cheap. We pay more money for space at our kitchen, and also pay for off-site storage – all just for glass jars.
On top of all this, last summer we faced a jar shortage. Due to the global shipping crisis, we couldn’t get jars for over 2 months, and had to call in every favour we could think of to secure enough packaging to meet our production needs. This was the last straw – we knew something needed to change.
We considered many different packaging alternatives. Here are a few that made the short list:
Parchment paper wrappers. We’ve been thinking for a long time about wrapping frozen patties in parchment paper, sealed with a sticker. This is the process that we use for making sample patty packs for giveaways. Parchment paper is fully compostable so this would be a very low waste packaging solution. There were two problems with this. First, parchment paper doesn’t create a complete vapour barrier, so product quality is a concern. Second, patties are a major departure from our current product offering, and we know how much everyone loves our scoopable, shapeable, versatile burger “dough.”
Recyclable plastic tubs. This is the most obvious solution, given that plastic is cheap, light, and easily recycled. Plastic packaging has a massive downside though. While PET 1 plastic is the most recycled product on the planet, if it isn’t recycled it take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade in nature. This means that plastic will end up in landfills and oceans and exist there for generations. Plastics and microplastics are a major threat to marine life, and have many other negative impacts in our environment. Due to these impacts, at Coastie we seek to avoid the use of plastic at every possible instance both with our product packaging but also up our supply chain. We’re not perfect, but we work very hard to minimize plastic waste.
Biodegradable bioplastics. Bioplastics are exciting and encouraging because they promise to be 100% compostable and made from renewable resources (often corn or sugarcane). The problem is that these materials can’t be composted by our municipal composting facilities in Vancouver. They also can’t be recycled alongside conventional plastics. Therefore, bioplastics end up contaminating both composting and recycling streams, and ultimately ending up in the landfill (where they don’t necessarily biodegrade quicker than plastic).
None of the above options felt right for us, so we kept searching and asking questions. Finally, we arrived at the best possible solution.
OUR NEW PACKAGING
Our new packaging is a fully recyclable ice cream tub, made from paper, and lined with a polyethylene coating made from sugarcane husk. Sugarcane husk is a waste product from sugar production, and therefore our packaging does not divert a food product. We have confirmed with RecycleBC that our new containers are fully recyclable. Once empty, just rinse then place in your blue bin for curbside recycling, or containers bin for multi-family unit recycling.
This solution is still not perfect – the bioplastic coating used in our containers could ultimately be a contaminant for some of the uses of the recycled fiber at the end of the recycling stream. Since we’re just one small business using this solution, we don’t expect to cause major problems – we just recognize that our solution may need to evolve over time. This is the best that we can do right now, and we will continue to work towards perfecting our packaging.
Do you have a pile of jars at home that you were planning to return? No worries, we’ll still be taking them back for the rest of 2021. We’ll also still be selling jars and accepting them back through our zero waste retail partners for the foreseeable future.
Thanks so much for reading this. We are so very grateful for your support and confidence as we continue on this journey.
– Ali and Matt